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Facebook Scores Major League Soccer Streaming Deal, Continuing Push Into Premium TV Content

Facebook is kicking at least 22 live Major League Soccer matches this season across its video platforms, under a pact with the league and Univision Communications’ Univision Deportes, which owns U.S. broadcast rights to the games.

The deal reflects the social giant’s appetite for live sports — as well as other TV-style content, which is set to include original long-form scripted and unscripted shows. Last month, Facebook inked a pact with Univision to carry 46 soccer matches from Mexico’s Liga MX for users in the U.S. with English-language commentary.

Facebook also is in talks with Major League Baseball about streaming free games, and earlier this week announced a deal with the World Surf League to broadcast all of its World Championship Tour men’s and women’s events and Big Wave Tour events via Facebook Live this season.

As with the Liga MX deal, initially the MLS games on Facebook will not carry any advertising.

Meanwhile, Facebook on the product side has been expanding the ways for its massive user base to find, watch and share video. Facebook video apps for Apple TV and Samsung Smart TVs launched last week, well-suited for watching live sports and other long-form programming, and it’s emphasized the video tab on its mobile apps.

Under the pact, MLS regular-season matches that are being broadcast on Univision networks in Spanish will now be available in the U.S. for live streaming in English via the Univision Deportes Facebook page. The live-streamed matches will feature Facebook-specific commentators, interactive graphics, and fan Q&A and polling features allowing viewers to engage directly with commentators throughout matches. The first MLS match to be streamed on Facebook will feature 2017 expansion club Atlanta United hosting the Chicago Fire on Saturday, March 18 at 4 p.m. ET.

“We are committed to serving our passionate fans,” Gary Stevenson, president and managing director of MLS Business Ventures, said in announcing the partnership. “We are working with all of our partners on making sure our games, and additional content, get to our fans anytime, anywhere, and on any device.”

In addition to the live soccer games, MLS will produce 40 exclusive “Matchday Live” shows on Facebook on game days featuring highlights and analysis from around the league and a preview of upcoming matches.

According to Univision Deportes, more than 18 million English-speaking viewers that have watched soccer on Univision.

On Facebook, the live broadcasts will be optimized for mobile devices and social viewing, said Dan Reed, the company’s head of global sports partnerships. “So even if they’re not at the stadium, people can watch the game on Facebook with a great view of the action while interacting with a highly engaged community of fans,” he said.

Throughout the 2016 season, MLS collaborated with Facebook on a number of projects, including a total takeover of the Sports on Facebook page.

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